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Why the latest Census data is bad news for young drivers

There are new calls to get younger drivers into safer cars as data shows our vehicle fleet is getting older for the first time in a decade.
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Road safety experts have renewed calls to encourage novice drivers to buy newer and safer cars as the latest Census data shows the average age of motor vehicles is increasing after years of getting younger.

According to the 2019 Australian Motor Vehicle Census compiled by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the average age of all motor vehicles has increased from 10 to 10.2 years since 2014.

It had previously dipped to 9.9 years, in 2008, and the average age has been 10 years for the past decade.

By comparison, the average age of motor vehicles in other developed countries such as the UK and Japan is between 8 and 8.5 years, although the US has a vehicle fleet average of more than 11.8 years.

Data from fatal crashes in Australia shows cars built before 2001 represented just 20 per cent of registered vehicles but accounted for 36 per cent of vehicles involved in fatalities nationally.

Conversely, near-new cars less than five years old (2012 to 2017 models) made up 31 per cent of the fleet but were involved in 12 per cent of fatalities, according to figures supplied by the Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP), the independent vehicle safety authority.

“The increase in the average age of vehicles is concerning,” said James Goodwin, the head of independent crash test authority, the Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP).

“We’ve been tracking the average age of vehicles against road fatalities over the past four years, and there is a clear link between the two.”

“Our research shows the age and relative safety of a vehicle is a likely contributor with the rate of fatal crashes four times higher for older vehicles than for new vehicles.”

Furthermore, the age of cars involved in fatal crashes is increasing. In 2014, the average age of all cars involved in fatal crashes was 12.5 years. In 2016, the most recent data available, the average age of all cars involved in fatal crashes had climbed to 13.1 years.

“Not only do newer vehicles provide increased protection in a crash, the majority of new vehicles sold are also equipped with advanced collision avoidance technologies,” said Mr Goodwin. “Safer vehicle choices play an important role in reducing deaths on Australian roads.”

Associate professor Jeremy Woolley, from South Australia’s Centre for Road Safety, says“any initiative that will end up with a younger (vehicle) fleet will be beneficial to the population.”

One suggestion gaining increasing support is, where possible, to have parents hand their teenagers the keys to the newest and safest car in the family – while mum and dad drive the teenager’s old banger.

“We are trying to get that message across to families,” said Professor Woolley. “At the end of the day you’ve got the drivers most at risk using cars that are the least able to help and protect them.”

“We are trying to bring that awareness to families. Where possible, don’t let your teenage children go off in the old banger while the five-star car is sitting in the driveway when it has the best chance of protecting them in a crash.”

The professor also said it was “an urban myth” that safe cars are expensive. Indeed, data shows most vehicles made since 2010 have the latest safety aids to protect occupants from in crash.

“There are affordable safe cars … in each class,” said Professor Woolley. “They don’t have to be a brand-new, top-end car. Even if they get a secondhand car that’s younger than what they’re driving now, that will increase their chances of survival in a crash quite dramatically.”

“Our research demonstrates that’s absolutely the case, and we’ve been campaigning hard to get that perspective across,” he said.

The latest national road toll data shows during the 12 months to the end of June 2019, there were 1214 deaths, a decrease of 0.2 per cent from the 12-month period ending June 2018.

However, year-to-date to the end of June there were sharp increases in road deaths in NSW (up 10 per cent), Victoria (up 58 per cent), South Australia (58 per cent) and West Australia (up 15 pert cent). Only Queensland posted a reduction in road deaths in June 2019 compared to the same period the previous year (down 14.5 per cent).